As the world’s leading producer of farmed salmon, Norway is a popular target for campaigners. It has subsequently had to endure inaccurate information appearing in the media, despite being subject to some of the strictest regulations and controls of any food production industry in the world.
For example, contrary to some wildly inaccurate reports, no medications or antibiotics are administered as a preventative measure in salmon feeds. Antibiotic use is rigorously monitored and can only be administered as a last resort and after veterinary clearance has been given. Furthermore, the treated salmon must be placed in quarantine in order to remove all treatment residues before being authorised for sale. As a result, the Norwegian Seafood Council (NSC) reports that antibiotic use has plummeted by 99% since the 1990s.
Contrary to popular belief, it takes between two and a half and three years to produce a market-ready salmon via fish farming. Most salmon spend the first year of their life in fresh water before being transferred to open sea pens for a further 18 to 24 months.
The stocking density of fish farms is controlled by Norwegian authorities and is never allowed to exceed a maximum 2.5% salmon for 97.5% water. The farming pens are both wide (30 to 65 metres in diameter) and deep (25 to 50 metres).
Because salmon is a species that is fed exclusively on the basis of appetite, fish farmers monitor the behaviour of their fish during food distribution in order to stop feeding at the point when they become satisfied. This avoids expensive waste.
In order to utilise more sustainable resources, the aquaculture sector has gradually introduced vegetable ingredients into salmon diets. These raw materials, purchased from South American and Asian countries, occasionally contain residues of the pesticide endosulfan, which is why traces of it are sometimes found in animal feed used in the EU and Norway.
To ensure food safety for consumers, a maximum limit of 0.05mg/kg for the presence of endosulfan in salmon feed has been set by European health authorities. According to the European Food Safety Authority and the European Commission, endosulfan in salmon feed is not a risk factor for human health or animal welfare.
Similarly, ethoxyquin is an antioxidant approved by the EU as an additive for fish feed to maintain quality during transport. The maximum limit for antioxidants such as ethoxyquin is set at 150mg/kg per foodstuff, and the latest results of the Norwegian official control programme on fish feed find that the levels are well below that level.
Moreover, a study published in December 2014 by the Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety (VKM) emphasises that the positive health effects of fish consumption clearly outweigh the risks.
In Norway, tests are regularly carried out on the seabed below and near salmon farming sites to ensure that farms have a low impact on the local environment. Also, independent laboratories take additional samples during and after each farming cycle. If the impact is found to be significant then production on the site would be suspended.
It should also be remembered that the Norwegian food-safety system is fully harmonised with EU regulations, and the European Free Trade Association Surveillance Authority (ESA) ensures the country is fully compliant with these regulations. Furthermore, all tests on Norwegian farmed salmon are compliant with European and Norwegian legislation.
As a global sector, there has been considerable progress in the last three decades to improve salmon farming from both the environmental and social perspectives. Its overriding problem seems to be a continued failing to communicate its achievements effectively.